Why you should do a Ski Instructor Course
Why should you consider embarking on a ski instructor course? It can seem daunting: surely you need to be incredible at skiing, you might think? ‘I’d never be able to do that’, people often say.
Well, having just come home from Verbier, Switzerland, where I spent the season gaining my BASI Level 1 & 2 ski instructor qualifications, I’m here to urge you to at least consider it.
Although chalet hosting, being a driver, or working as a ‘liftie’ are the most popular ski season choices, here’s why you should think about getting your ski instructor qualifications instead…
By James Clemetson
First though, what is an instructor course?
The courses vary depending on the examining body, often determined by the country you want to ski and teach in.
- BASI – British Association of Ski and Snowboard Instructors
- Anwärter – Austrian System – progresses to Landes 1 & 2
- CASI – Canadian Association of Ski and Snowboard Instructors
- NZSIA – New Zealand Ski and Snowboard Instructor Association
The most widely used system across the Alps is BASI (British Association of Ski and Snowboard Instructors). These ‘gap’ courses are offered by numerous companies and are often 10 weeks long, including your Level 1 and 2 exams. Level 1 is a week-long exam and will be around halfway through your course, with the final two weeks acting as your Level 2 exam – sounds intense, doesn’t it! It definitely can be at times, but it’s so rewarding, and it should be said that no matter what you decide to do on your season, it’ll be serious work-hard-play-hard.
I was originally supposed to do the Anwärter in Zell am See, Austria, until it was cancelled due to Covid-19, so I can advise a little on this. The Anwärter is a very popular course due to the fact that Austria has many awesome locations for ski seasons, known worldwide for their amazing après. Resorts such as St. Anton, Ischgl, Saalbach and Kitzbühel are all well worth a look.
SIA (Ski Instructor Academy) is a great company to go with for this. The course lasts six weeks, rather than ten, meaning it’s over £2000 cheaper (but this is very dependent on which exact course you book).
From my point of view, there are a couple of downsides to the Austrian system; you have to learn a decent amount of German (this could be right up your street, but I found it quite a slog), and secondly, it is predominantly only recognised in Austria, whereas BASI is far more globally recognised.
With BASI 1 & 2, you can work all over Europe, Japan, New Zealand and beyond. You cannot, however, teach in France. This is a big one to note down if you dream of dancing on the tabletops at La Folie Douce, showing off your instructor’s outfit after a day of teaching.
Unfortunately in order to teach in France, if you haven’t come through the French system, you will need to be Level 4 qualified and have passed your Euro Test (high-level racing). And, I’m afraid to say, but even if you’re the best skier out of your mates, you’re not reaching that in one season – sorry!
Which route should I choose?
In order to choose which route you go down, you’ll need to answer two main questions:
- Where do I want to ski?
- Is this just a gap year thing or do I want to pursue it further?
The importance of the first question is quite obvious, but the second will tell you whether you should be worried about how internationally recognised the qualification is. For instance, if you’d love to go to St. Anton (and I really wouldn’t blame you; Austria’s a LOT cheaper than the French and Swiss Alps), then if you’re only doing it for the one year, you needn’t worry about the international restrictions associated with the Anwärter.
So, there’s some information about the nitty-gritty, but why should you do it?
To become an instructor, you essentially learn to ski again, from the very beginning. And, yes, that does mean at the very start you’ll be doing snowplough, but stay with me… Going back to the beginning and working up, combined with great instructors and video analysis will improve your skiing more than you ever thought you could. If, like me, you’re the sporty competitive type, it’s an incredibly rewarding process when you commit. You’ll cover short and long turns, moguls, steep terrain and off-piste – a pretty good arsenal to have for future holidays. It’s a fantastic investment in your skiing ability that will last a lifetime.
You don’t need to be a pro already (although it does help if you have more experience), and the whole point is progression; as long as you can comfortably get down blues and reds, go for it!
Everyone on the course loves to ski, so you’ve already got at least one thing in common with them. They’ll probably love to party and have a blast too, but being around outdoorsy people that you can go and shred with every day is an amazing experience.
Unfortunately, this season the newly qualified instructors didn’t gain any formal work, but the little I did was truly fulfilling. As a sailing instructor in my summer holidays, I can say it gave the same immense feeling of satisfaction helping someone to improve, especially when they don’t believe they can. I believe it is an experience most won’t get to enjoy in life, and one that should be snatched up whenever you can.
Obviously, this upside isn’t specific to instructing but I couldn’t leave it out. Simply being in the mountains for months on end is one of the most insane experiences I have had to date. If, as I have mentioned, you’re an outdoorsy type, just do it.
For me, the only downside was the expense – and it is a great expense – but it’s still extremely worth it for someone that just loves to ski.
As well as financially, you need to commit to the training. You’re not guaranteed to pass both your Level 1 and 2. Most people pass their Level 1, but the pass rate for Level 2 is more like 60%. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t pass, just maybe don’t turn up to too many training sessions still boozed from the night before.
So you’ve decided to take the leap, you’re going for it, now how do you organise it? One of the major benefits of an instructor course is that the company you go with sorts everything for you! Accommodation (often catered in the Alps, more self-catered in Austria), exam fees, instruction, first aid course – this is all sorted by the company you choose.
Having been a seasonnaire during the Covid-19 pandemic, it for sure wasn’t a normal season. Although nothing bar, restaurant or après-related was open, we still ended up having immense amounts of fun. Evenings ending with leaps from balconies and out of windows to escape the Covid police and trying to find places in the woods where we could have a drink with more than five people certainly made it interesting. But to have had the experiences we had, even in such a ‘non-year’, speaks volumes to the times you can have on a ski instructor course when normal life resumes. This is why I implore anyone that thinks it might be for them to give it a serious mulling over.
I went to Verbier with Altitude Futures, a great company with really fun and relatable instructors. The only issue I had was a slight lack of efficiency on the admin side, but this was down to the much greater intake of trainees this season to make up for losses from the rest of the year due to Covid. There are other companies that operate in Verbier, and Val D’Isere too, offering BASI qualifications; from my experience, these are the most popular.
What about Verbier?
In terms of Verbier as a resort… it’s the freeride (off-piste) capital of the world. We were lucky enough to watch the finale of the Freeride World Tour up on the Bec des Rosses, one of the most famous faces on the calendar. It became normal to be on a lift with a pro – not something you find everywhere! For skiers, it caters for everything from perfect groomers in Savoleyres, to the terrain park in La Chaux for the park rats out there, to the cliff drops in Lac des Vaux, on top of all the freeriding and tree line! It has everything, as well as being connected to the 4 Vallées.
Verbier is a truly beautiful town too, one I would highly recommend, but it does come with a price. But, if you rarely eat out, take lunch up the mountain, buy Prix Garantie beer from the Coop, and ask for seasonnaires discount at Ice Cube, it’s manageable. I lived on less than £130 a week, and I wasn’t being too stingy either. Unfortunately, due to the Covid year, I cannot speak for the après, but I’m told it is epic, and of course, that would have raised my expenses. In terms of travel, there is a really efficient bus service everywhere you need included in the lift pass.
If you love the mountains, love to ski, are even remotely competitive with yourself or others, and are up for an adventure that’s both challenging and extremely rewarding, I think you know what to do.